ADD THEM TO THE LIST of plants I suddenly noticed are MIA—things I “always” grew but haven’t lately. The latest “where did they go?” crop: tomatillos. I’m determined to master a salsa recipe to can or freeze this year, particularly a green one, or salsa verde. That’s why tomatillos, which self-sowed here for a decade before disappearing who knows why or exactly when, are on the to-grow list in 2013. Some how-to—including on my weekly radio show, where I get advice from my friend Gayla Trail—plus a giveaway of a whole salsa-garden seed kit.
prefer the podcast?
TOMATILLOS AND SALSA, and some unusual relatives of the tomatillo, were the subject of the latest edition of my weekly public-radio program, with guest Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl [dot] com. Listen anywhere, anytime: Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio’s three stations on Monday about 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun Saturdays. It is available free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The February 18, 2013 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show marks the start of its fourth year in March, and is available for syndication by other public-radio stations via PRX.
Tomatillos (Physalis ixocarpa or P. philadelphica, depending which variety you grow) are cousin to the tomato and other solanaceous crops or nightshades, such as peppers, potatoes, and eggplants. But it’s much easier to see their even closer relationship to the Chinese lantern, Physalis alkekengi, a somewhat-thuggish perennial that’s wonderful dried, with its papery orange husks (the lanterns, technically the calyx).
Gayla of You Grow Girl [dot] com is a mad canner who also admits to an obsession with solanums—“even including just-on-the-verge-of-edible ones,” she says—so I knew the plain old edible tomatillo and salsa would be a great topic for us.
IN GAYLA’S Toronto, Ontario, location and mine in New York State, tomatillos that set fruit will then self-sow the coming year (assuming some fruit is left in the garden to do so). But we don’t get enough early heat to prompt those seedlings to get up and growing in time to accommodate the long season a tomatillo prefers, and that means a short, reduced harvest—unless we start inside, Gayla reminded me (she has a full how-to on her blog). She likes to sow up to 8 weeks ahead of her frost-free date indoors under lights.
Even Pattie Boudier, co-founder of Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in much milder Zone 8 in Northern California, agrees a headstart can be beneficial.
“My property is a little microclimate, and some years there is a tendency for a late start to the heat needed for the nightshade family,” she says. “But unless there is a hail storm in the fall, they look great and produce until the first frost since our summers are typically long, like until October.”
Tomatillos can be left to sprawl, but staking them is better, keeping the fruit up off the ground (and at least away from slugs if not chipmunks!). Gayla has grown various yellow, green and purple varieties of tomatillos in the ground and also in containers some years, so even small-space gardeners can accommodate a plant or two. In the ground, space them 2-3 feet apart.
I highly recommend having an extra plant so you can pilfer the occasional flowering, fruit-setting shoot for cottagey floral arrangements—something I also like to do with developing sprays of cherry tomatoes.
As for my salsa quest, Gayla recommends a not-too-hot pepper as part of the mix, such as an ancho (a.k.a. poblano), or maybe ‘Pasilla Bajio’ (which we managed to spell wrong on the radio, but is also used in mole sauces and turns the darkest purple when ripe).
Interested in trying other edible Physalis? Gayla always makes room for ground cherries, with an orange-citrus-pineapple flavor, and also for cape gooseberries (P. peruviana)—their flavor is citrusy, too. The latter needs to be started very early if you’re up north. With the ground cherries, there are various species, some hardier than others. Both ground cherries and cape gooseberries are favorites in jams, or just eaten right in the garden.
And then there are those barely edible ones that really get plant-mad Gayla going—some crazy-thorny and all Little Shop of Horrors-ish, even. For more on that, I recommend the podcast.
how to win the seed collection
THERE ARE 2 WAYS TO WIN, and each of the winners chosen at random will win one Salsa Fiesta Collection Gift Seed Tin courtesy of Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, a sponsor here at A Way to Garden. The gift set contains seed from 10 different vegetables and herbs that can be grown to make several different types of salsa, including both a purple and a green tomatillo.
All you have to do to enter is answer the following question in the comments below:
Do you make your own homegrown salsa? Please share your hints, tips, and favorite ingredients, or go ahead and just say “Count me in” if you’re feeling shy.
(My answer: F-A-I-L. It’s always too hot to eat! But this year I will nail it.)
After commenting below, click over to Gayla’s tomatillo post at You Grow Girl, and comment there for a second chance at the prize. You can just cut and paste your comment if you like–but don’t miss the chance to enter there, too.
Winners will be drawn randomly after entries close at midnight on Monday, February 25, and informed by email. (U.S. residents only for this event.)
Thanks again to Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, in the business of providing supplies for organic gardening since 1976, for their support of You Grow Girl and A Way to Garden.